Leyland still fears Avery and Smoltz NL playoff notes

October 16, 1991|By Bill Plaschke | Bill Plaschke,Los Angeles Times

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates manager Jim Leyland said he is not comfortable with his team's 3-2 lead and the home-field advantage in the National League Championship Series.

"I can't feel too good about it, knowing we still might have to face [Steve] Avery and [John] Smoltz," Leyland said. "Beating one of them is going to be tough enough."

Leyland was referring to the Braves' starting pitchers in Game 6, at 8:30 tonight and, if necessary, Game 7 tomorrow night.

"I don't know how it will be any different from the first time we faced him, except if he makes a mistake," the Pirates' Andy Van Slyke said of Avery, 21, who held the Pirates scoreless in 8 1/3 innings in Game 2.

"For being just 21, he showed a lot of composure," said Doug Drabek, tonight's Pirates starter. "Sometimes some guys are lucky, it doesn't matter if they have playoff experience or not. He is obviously one of those guys."

Avery is 3-0 against the Pirates this season with a 1.21 ERA. In his last nine starts, he has gone 6-0 with a 2.24 ERA.

He is the youngest 18-game winner for the Braves franchise since 1900 and will have a chance tonight to become one of the youngest postseason heroes ever.

Avery might have an advantage if the weather is cold and rainy, as expected. A couple of times during his 1988 senior season at Kennedy High in Taylor, Mich., he pitched in snow.

"It was kind of tough," he said. "You had to put gloves on between innings."

* CAN'T TURN BACK NOW: Braves manager Bobby Cox sticks by his decision to call for a suicide squeeze with two out and two strikes on pitcher Tom Glavine in the second inning of the Pirates' 1-0 victory Monday.

Glavine missed the bunt sign and Brian Hunter was tagged out between third and home, ending the inning.

"I was real surprised he would bunt with two strikes," winning pitcher Zane Smith said.

Said Cox: "Tommy Glavine's probably the best bunter in baseball. Zane Smith is a control pitcher, the count went 2-2, perfect time to do it."

Cox also was criticized for leaving lefthanded hitter Sid Bream on the bench in the ninth inning against righthanded reliever Roger Mason. On three occasions, Bream, who has a home run and three runs batted in during the series, could have logical

ly been used as a pinch hitter. Instead, Cox used Tommy Gregg, Mark Lemke and Jeff Blauser.

"I was real surprised he didn't hit -- I was actually looking for him a couple of times," Mason said of Bream. "I figured as soon as a righthander got up, I would have to face him. I'm glad I didn't."

Cox said he didn't use Bream because he is slow.

"If Sid gets a pinch single, we've got to pinch-run and he's out of the ballgame," Cox said.

* BELL AS MVP? If the series ends tonight, the most valuable player probably will be Jay Bell, who is batting .476 and made the appeal play against David Justice at third base Monday, which took away a Braves run in the Pirates' 1-0 win. Bell said the reason he noticed that Justice had not touched base was because Bell had once missed first in the minor leagues and has studied runners' feet ever since.

* FOR THE BIRDS: Van Slyke gave a name to the bird that shared centerfield with him during Monday's game. "It was a digeon -- a cross between a dove and a pigeon," he said. "It was probably the most impressive thing in the game, because it spent the whole day eating. From the first to the ninth inning, it stuck its head down and ate. I threw a ball at it, and it still wouldn't leave."

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